11 December 2012

Uganda: 'Only Court and Not the Press Will Try Kazinda'

Justice David Wangutusi has warned the Ugandan press against convicting Geoffrey Kazinda, the interdicted principal accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, before Court does so.

Wangutusi said judgments being delivered in the newspapers are baseless.

Speaking with direct eye contact with Kazinda, the judge said: "You will be tried by one Court." "The press should not convict Kazinda before Court does so," Wangutusi said shortly after reading out 29 counts of forgery to Kazinda to which he pleaded not guilty with a frail tone.

Kazinda was on Dec. 10 appearing before the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala to answer charges of forgery and unlawful possession of government property for which he allegedly used to defraud the government of billions of shillings.

Court heard that Kazinda, between Jan.25 last year and July 22 this year with intent to defraud or to deceive forged the signature of Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister contained in cash withdrawal forms purpoting to show that the forms were signed by Bigirimana whereas not. Kazinda's fraudulent transactions then allegedly led to the financial loss of billions of shillings to the government.

However, in yesterday's court proceedings, Kazinda's lawyers led by McDusman Kabega and Augustine Idoot told Court that Kazinda has petitioned the Constitutional Court regarding the way his constitutional rights have been trampled upon by the government over the last few months. He petitioned the Constitutional Court through a suit which was filed by his other lawyer, Ambrose Tebyasa on Dec.3. The same petition has been served to the Attorney General.

Kazinda accuses government of violating his constitutional right to bail by frustrating the high court order which directed his release on bail recently. He therefore wants proceedings before the Anti Corruption Court deferred until the Constitutional Court addresses his complaints.

He is challenging the conduct and manner in which he has been detained. He is also protesting the manner in which he was arrested, detained in prison before he was arraigned before Court, and the constitutionality of the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Court. Kazinda is also not happy with the way his trial has been conducted in piece meal mode.

"If the proceedings were to continue before the Anti-Corruption Court," Kazinda's lawyers said, "it would mean that Kazinda's constitutional rights are being trampled upon."

"Matters should be stayed until the Constitutional Court disposes off the petition."

Kazinda who visibly appeared sick with his eyes closed most of the time during the court proceedings is currently on remand in Luziira. He also wants Court to grant him bail. His lawyers argued that besides the prison medical authority proving that he is sick, he is still innocent until proven guilty, according to the provisions in the Constitution.

However, prosecution objected to the request arguing that there was no way Court could grant them their wish because their petition had just been served, and that the Anti-Corruption Court has not received any formal order from the Constitutional Court to stay the proceedings.

"Mere filing of the petition is not going to interrupt the proceedings of this Anti-Corruption Court," Jane Frances Abodo, the lawyer on the prosecution team argued.

Court concurred with the prosecution saying that filing a petition in the Constitutional Court does not automatically halt the proceedings in this Court.

"It is important to show how his rights have been trampled upon. Mere mentioning in this court is not enough," Wangutusi said.

Consequently, Kazinda's case hearing will get into full swing starting Jan.7.

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